December 4th 1969. Officers raided Fred Hampton’s apartment, where he lay asleep (perhaps even drugged) in bed next to his pregnant girlfriend. All because of what he wanted and what he believed. Long before Fred Hampton’s meteoric rise, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was the target of a well executed smear campaign led by the federal government. Long before Fred Hampton, the public was led to believe that what the Black Panther Party wanted was chaos and that they believed violence was the means to their end.
It was this campaign that allowed the death of Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and dozens of other members of the Black Panther Party. It is this campaign, that was birthed in the 60s that still allows the unlawful incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli and other political prisoners. It is this campaign that allows the continued persecution of the San Francisco 8, Assata Shakur and many others.
But what did the Panthers really want? What did they really believe?
So often history paints a one-sided picture of its subject. Through their Ten Point Program, the Black Panther Party demanded freedom, full employment, decent housing, education, justice through fair trials, and bread for Blacks in America. Demands that did not vary greatly from the demands and desires of freedmen following Emancipation. Through their Survival Programs they sought to deliver these very basic needs.
They wanted bread and adequate nourishment because they believed that “one of the greatest forms of oppression is hunger”. While many lamented that “local medical facilities were compiling statistics on malnutrition and hunger” the Panthers were feeding
“nearly 100 hungry children” each morning.
They wanted education because they believed that ignorance was a friend to oppression. So they provided political education classes for the public and required members to attend. They established schools for children and adults alike and required that all members in leadership positions read for no less than two hours a day.
They wanted justice because they believed that Blacks in America were denied access to fair trials. They educated themselves on the laws and the Constitution, eager to know what they were owed as citizens and just as eager to claim it.
They wanted freedom and the power to determine the destiny of their community because they believed that “black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny”. A destiny that they attempted to take into their own hands through their Survival Programs and belief in education.
Even if you don’t agree with what the Black Panther Party wanted or what they believed, you cannot deny the magnitude of what they did.